'The Longest Yard' and the Top 10 Football Movies of All Time
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The following slideshow is about to enter the anger zone for some. The subsequent slides will document top 10 football-related movies of all time.
I realize not everyone is going to be happy. In fact, some people get downright emotional about this because to some—like me—a particular movie has impacted us to a point of action, change of attitude or alteration of preconceived thinking.
For instance, the original Rocky is one of those movies forever ingrained in my mind. When it came out in 1976, I was a 13-year-old boy who saw something in Rocky that would lay the foundation for my thought process as an athlete for years to come. I saw the movie 10 times that summer.
Okay, enough about me, let’s get to the criteria. These movies are in no particular order because I am not a fan of ranking items such as these. It’s like trying to name the greatest football player, team, etc. of all time.
I tried to include movies that are family-oriented, some that are funny and some that bring tears to your eyes no matter who you are.
Speaking of tears, this is not football-related, but try to tell me you didn’t shed a tear near the end of Marley and Me?
To alleviate any confusion, the movies are presented from the date of release, oldest to most recent.
"Knute Rockne: All American" (1940)
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"Win one for the Gipper."
Even if you are from Kuala Lumpur, you most likely have heard that phrase.
When I was about seven, I thought this was a movie on sailing because I thought everyone was saying, "Win one for the skipper."
My first taste of this movie was in high school, and I wouldn’t exactly say it grabbed me to the point of needing to watch it more than once, but I saw this movie again just after President Reagan’s death in 2004; admittedly it is a good story.
If you can stomach black and white movies, then put this on your list as a must-see. Of course, it’s probably been colorized, so that should help.
The story chronicles the life of famed Notre Dame coach Knute Rockne, and his innovative plays and alignments he brought to college football. In this movie, we are introduced to George Gipp, a Notre Dame player who is dying from a strep infection; hence the famous line from George when he utters those famous words. We also get to meet the notorious "Four Horsemen."
Aside from the average acting, the lines are classic, and Rockne’s motivational style is inspiring.
"That's My Boy" (1951)
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Okay, this one is from left field,—or the end zone, if you will—but if you are any kind of fan of comedy, this hilarious movie stars Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin.
True, it’s not one of those true-to-life football movies, but it is one funny film.
Jerry Lewis plays the nerdy Junior Jackson, son of the famous football star Jarring Jack Jackson, and aside from tripping all over himself, running the wrong way, scoring a touchdown for the opposition and being embarrassed by girls who are attracted to him, Lewis pulls off another brilliant antic-filled role; clearly one of his best.
So how does Martin play into this? He makes a deal with Junior’s father that he will turn him into a football player, and the gut-busting comedy begins.
If you want a good laugh and possibly part of your drink shooting out your nostrils, That’s My Boy is the movie for you.
"Brian's Song" (1971)
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Confession: I was about eight years old when this movie came out, and I was a young football enthusiast who sat on the living room floor watching Billy Dee Williams (playing the part of Gale Sayers) deliver a speech that had even me in tears.
When he hangs his head, then turns and says, "I love Brian Piccolo, and I want all of you to love him too," and then they start playing the theme song, man. My mom lost it, my dad turned his head and I just sobbed like someone took my ice cream.
Most of you know the story of Brian Piccolo, running back for the Chicago Bears from 1965-1969, who was diagnosed with cancer and passed away in June of 1970. Sayers was his teammate and shared the backfield duties, although it was clear Sayers was the main guy.
The two backs became very close friends, and Sayers said Piccolo had more courage than any other man he had ever met. Piccolo’s jersey, No. 45, has been retired by the organization.
If you have never seen this movie, do yourself a favor; pop the corn, grab a drink and enjoy a quality, based-on-a-true-story football movie.
"The Longest Yard" (1974)
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This original is so much better than the remake a few years back with Adam Sandler. This was when Burt Reynolds was at or near the top of his game when it came to making movies, and who wouldn’t want to see a football game played between prison guards and the prisoners of the facility?
Reynolds plays an inmate who happens to be former pro quarterback Paul “Wrecking” Crewe, and as a player, his claim to fame was that he once shaved points (kind of a no-no anywhere). Even the inmates are not too enamored with their new celebrity guest.
The prison’s warden, played by the ever-affable Eddie Albert, wants Crewe to coach his semi-pro team made up of prison guards, most of whom have played college ball. When Crewe refuses, he is given hard labor, and decides to persuade the warden into allowing him to form together a team of convicts (which at points is absolutely hilarious) as a warm-up game for the guards.
Warden Hazen (Albert) agrees, and the game becomes an epic one that is won by…
You probably know, but why give it away. The original has a great cast, compelling plot and some pretty nasty football contact drills.
A must-see and needs to go on the bucket list.
"North Dallas Forty" (1979)
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If you are wondering why I have a picture of Brett Favre, it's because when I see the title, it reminds me of North of 40; plus, Favre and Nick Nolte have similar mannerisms.
Starring a young Nick Nolte and country-singing star Mac Davis, North Dallas Forty was one of the first football movies that took a hard look at the sport behind the sport.
Not exactly recommended for young viewers, this is definitely a movie where dad told you to go read or listen to the radio in your room—uh, before computers, cell phones and all that folks, go with me here.
The story chronicles life in the NFL off the field where sex, drugs, alcohol and all that "raging wild-man" stuff that was more acceptable back in the day.
Nolte plays an aging player trying to hang on to his career with pain killers, while Davis plays the young quarterback Seth Maxwell who is a lady killer. The movie features great drama, it's funny and it takes a satirical look at the sport to some degree.
One of the better lines in the movie is when one of the players tells the coach, "Every time I call it a game, you call it business. And every time I call it a business, you call it a game."
Hmm, sounds like today’s CBA disagreement, doesn’t it?
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This made-for-TV movie is the story of Richmond Flowers Jr. (played by Dermot Mulroney), the son of the pro-civil rights attorney general (Peter Coyote) in Alabama during segregation in the 1960's. Flowers Jr. is a boy who dreams of becoming an American football player, despite being small for his age.
Because of Flowers' father and his views on segregation, he suffers abuse and isolation from his peers at school. This push back hinders his ability to play a sport he loves.
The story focuses on Flowers and his two friends, Cindy (a foster kid) and the dorky outcast Arnie. The three friends struggle against other students at school, but also confront their families' struggles against the wider community, especially those that oppose the civil rights movement.
The movie offers good drama and a compelling plot. Plus, it helps that I was an extra in this movie.
I was in one of the locker room scenes, and I got the chance to talk with Dermot for about 45 minutes in between shots. By the way, I am the guy drinking from the water fountain as the coaches come walking down the steps.
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You know it’s a slam dunk finalist when you cannot find one person who has any negative comments about this movie. Every person I talk to regards Rudy as one of their favorite football movies of all time, and rightly so.
Rudy is an inspirational story that reaches the soul and tugs the heart. Hell, even I wanted to hoist him on my shoulders when I saw it.
Based on the true story of Rudy Ruettiger, a steel mill kid who dreams of playing for the Fighting Irish, Rudy embarks on an impossible journey that has him working and going to a JUCO in order to get the grades to get into Notre Dame.
When Rudy gets accepted to Notre Dame, he becomes a walk-on for the football team, and despite his lack of height, weight and athleticism, he is determined to don the blue and gold.
Due to Rudy’s sheer determination, the players influence Coach Dan Devine to put him in the game, although the real story is a bit different. Rudy ended up sacking the Georgia Tech QB, and the rest is history.
If this movie is not in your library, it should be.
"The Waterboy" (1998)
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Adam Sandler stars as the naïve and very goofy Bobby Boucher. This farcical look at Cajun bayou folk will keep you laughing endlessly throughout the movie.
The improbable Boucher winds up playing football, much to his mother’s disapproval. In fact, he keeps it a secret from his Bible-thumping, scripture laden mama.
What makes this movie so fun to watch is the stereotypical characters and how they are portrayed as ignorant folk. From Rob Schneider’s townie role, to Blake Clark’s Farmer Fran, oddball characters lurk around every corner. Even Jerry Reed’s portrayal of rival coach Red Beaulieu is stereotypical of those cocky, conniving and mal-intent people of years gone by.
A great night in calls for The Waterboy because m-m-m-mama said….m-m-m-mama said…mama said you have to watch Bobby play foosball.
"Remember the Titans" (2000)
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Here is another movie for the ages. I am fortunate enough to teach with a guy who actually played on the losing team in the movie’s final game.
The year is 1971, and a federal mandate requires that all the schools in the D.C. area integrate; Remember the Titans chronicles that first year.
In this movie, African American coach Boone is trying to lead the desegregated T.C. Williams High School football team. This is a movie about racial tension and close relationships.
The movie is led by an all-star cast with strong performances from Denzel Washington and Will Patton.
This is one of those movies that show up on TV every now and again, and you find yourself watching it instead of flipping through the remote like you have a finger twitch.
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The true story of Vince Papale comes to the big screen, as Mark Walhberg offers a solid performance and delivery of a great story.
Kind of like Rudy where the coach holds tryouts for walk-ons, newly-hired Dick Vermeil decides to hold open tryouts for his Eagles team. Of course it wasn’t exactly the truth, but it makes for good Hollywood theater. Papale was a semi-pro player and actually played for the rival WFL, but that is ruining the Disney version, sorry.
Papale is a 30-year-old bartender tired of his life. His wife leaves him, and he ponders his existence. When news of the Eagles' tryouts emerges, Papale embarks on a journey of determination and desire.
With support from the community, Papale actually makes the team and winds up recovering a fumble and returning it for a TD, ensuring Vermeil’s first victory as Eagles head coach.
It’s a heart-warming movie that offers that typical plot of no matter how tall the odds or where you come from, you have a chance to make something of yourself. Vince Papale shows every regular guy (if you work out like a madman) that anything is possible.
Other Notables That Almost Made the List
One of the finest actors walking the planet
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Before I get to these, again, this is not a definitive list that chronicles why or why not that a movie should be ranked above another. It is simply a list of great movies, and even the notables mentioned are worth an evening view here and there.
The Replacements (2000): A very funny and satirical look at the scab teams back in the day. As always, Gene Hackman is great. I am still waiting on acting lessons for Keanu Reaves; he has to be the worst big-money actor in the last 20 years.
Everybody’s All-American (1988): Dennis Quaid plays Gavin Grey, a retired ex-player who must deal with the complexities of life.
We Are Marshall (2006) : A heart-wrenching true story about the crash of the 1970 Marshall football team.
All the Right Moves (1983): Tom Cruise in the first of many typical cocky roles that made him millions and millions of dollars.
The Blindside (2009): Sandra Bullock is always worth the price of admission. This is the story of Michael Oher’s amazing rise to the NFL.
Jerry Maguire (1996): Tom Cruise is back, but as an agent who is losing clients left and right because he is losing his touch to show his clients the money.
Friday Night Lights (2004): A Texas town's obsession with football, enough said.
Varsity Blues (1999): See above, but with a different plot.
My apologies if I left off one of those "can’t miss" football movies.